Complete Guide to 10 Commonly Missed Deductions For Your 2008 Tax Return

If you don't know about a possible tax break, you won't use it. Here are the deductions that many taxpayers often forget. How many times have you done your taxes and, a few weeks later, discovered you had overlooked the chance for a deduction? Many times, surely. How can you not leave out these deductions the next time? Start preparing now!

Here are 10 very commonly missed deductions that can impact your tax bill for 2008 and your tax planning for 2009.

1 - Noncash contributions

Charity, as we hope everyone recalls, begins with a tax deduction. If you didn't have the cash to give in 2008, let's hope you charged it. And, likewise, if you don't have the cash when it comes time to contribute in 2009, charge it. The deduction is permitted in the year of the charge, not when you actually pay the bill.

Get a receipt from any charity to which you gave a contribution, and, if you're still concerned about documentation, get the credit card company to mail you their record of the transaction.

Let's assume you emptied your closets and gave everything to Goodwill or a similar charity. The value of your donated items -- clothes, furniture, etc. -- is deductible. Obtain a written receipt. With noncash charitable donations, the rule is easy: No receipt means no tax deduction if you get audited. Clothes and household items must be in good or better condition to get the deduction.

If you've already dropped your old clothes in a Salvation Army box and walked away without a receipt, take the deduction anyway. You've legitimately made the donation. You simply may not be able to prove it in an audit. Beginning with 2007 returns, the law has required a receipt or some kind of written verification for all charitable contributions. Feel lucky? Play the audit lottery. You're still an honest person.

If you are able to, reconstruct as much as you can the list of items you donated and then work out their market value. The simplest way is to go to a thrift store and check prices there. And then, naturally, when you make the contribution, get that receipt.

2 - New points on refinancing With interest rates so low over the past couple of years -- even in 2008 and unquestionably in 2009 -- tons of homes have been refinanced, occasionally more than once.

Any points you pay to refinance your home can be deducted on a monthly basis over the life of the new loan. So, if you refinanced your mortgage on June 1, 2008, for a 20-year term, seven out of 240 months will have elapsed after Dec. 31. If you paid $2,400 in points, you can write off $70 ($10 a month for seven months) for 2008. You can write off $120 for 2009 and each year thereafter until the points have been deducted in total. The sum may not be large, but every little bit helps.

3 - Old points on refinancing This is one deduction many people overlook. All unamortized points on an old refinancing can be deducted in the year of a new refinancing.

So, let's assume you refinanced on June 1, 2007, and paid $2,400 in points. You refinanced once more on June 1, 2008. You will be able to deduct all the unexhausted points on the 2007 loan on your 2008 return. That's $2,280 plus the $50 you could deduct for January through May 2008. Similarly, if you refinance the 2008 loan in 2009 (if interest rates remain low and a lender still likes you), you can write off the remaining balance on your 2009 return.

4 - Health insurance premiums Any health insurance premiums you pay, including some long-term-care premiums based on your age, are potentially deductible. You have to add these, however, to your medical expense pile. Medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) before they bring you any tax break.

But if you are self-employed and not covered by any other employer-paid plan, you can deduct 100% your health insurance premiums "above the line." Above the line means the expense is included in adjusted gross income and doesn't get lumped in with itemized deductions. That means that you not only do not have to exceed the 7.5% floor, you don't even need to itemize!

5 - Educator expenses If you're a qualified educator, you are able to get an above-the-line deduction of as much as $250 for supplies you bought in 2008 and may buy in 2009. That includes books, supplies and even computer equipment.

You qualify if you're a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, aide, instructor or principal.

Congress extended the law through 2009, and will likely renew the break for 2010.

The alternative minimum tax was in the beginning designated to ensure high-earning Americans paid their fair portion of income taxes. But it hasn't been considerably altered over the years and ensnares more and more middle-class people.

6 - Student higher education expenses For 2008 and 2009, if your adjusted gross income isn't higher than $65,000 ($130,000 on a joint return), you can take an above-the-line deduction of as much as $4,000 for any higher-education expenses you paid.

Check if you qualify for the Hope and Lifetime Learning credits. The Hope credit is worth as much as $1,800 per student in 2008 and 2009. The Lifetime Learning credit is worth as much as $2,000 per return. Compare the credit with the deduction, and go with the one which gives you the biggest benefit. And, if you don't qualify for either credit, you may be able to deduct up to $4,000 in education expenses in 2008 and 2009.

7 - Clean fuel credit Credits are great since they are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax. And if you purchased a new hybrid gas-electric auto or truck in 2008, you can take a conservation tax credit of between $250 and $1,000 and an further fuel economy credit of between $400 and $2,400, dependent on the make and the fuel economy. A hybrid car combines an electric motor with a gas fueled internal combustion engine.

But move quickly. The credit begins to phase out when the auto manufacturer sells its 60,000th hybrid vehicle. That's the total per manufacturer, not 60,000 per model. Once the cap is hit, the phaseout starts at the start of the second subsequent calendar quarter.

You can't get a credit anymore on a Toyota Prius, and credits were to run out Honda Civics on Dec. 31, 2008. A number of cars still qualify, including models from Ford, Chevrolet, Mazda, Saturn, Nissan and Volkswagen.

Once 60,000 cars are sold, buyers over the next two quarters can claim just half the credit. In the six months after that, 25% of the full credit. After that, nothing. You acquire the deduction in the year you start using the car, and you must be the original owner. Take the deduction on Form 1040 by writing in "clean fuel."

Consumers must do more legwork to understand what sort of tax savings they might get if they're purchasing a particular hybrid car or truck. Check with a dealer or tax preparer.

8 - Investment and tax expenses Many people forget tax planning and investment expenses because they're part of miscellaneous itemized expenses. Their total must exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income before you get any tax break.

Expenses to track include your employee business expenses, tax preparation fees and even the part of your legal or accounting fees related to tax planning. For instance, in a divorce, the legal time spent bearing on the tax aspects of alimony and child support would qualify. As would the tax aspects of estate planning.

A lot of people short themselves on the deduction of investment expenses. They remember the safety deposit box fees. But what about the annual fee paid to your broker and any IRA fees you pay directly? You may remember the cost of your investment publications on subscription -- such as Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Worth and Barron's. But how about the investment newspapers you purchase off the newsstands? You keep track of your long-distance phone calls to your broker and investment advisor, but how about the gas mileage to go meet them?

9 - Casualty deductions Last year bestowed forest and range fires aplenty, and everybody recalls Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005 and Hurricane Ike, which hit Texas and Louisiana in 2008.

If President Bush declared your area a disaster area, you can claim your loss either on your 2008 return or your 2007 return. You can confirm whether you qualify on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site.

Compare your 2007 return with what you anticipate filing for 2008 and figure out what year fetches you more money. You also should receive interest back to April 15, 2007. Unless your income for 2008 was substantially less than 2007, it's probably better to take the deduction in 2008. If you do qualify for a refund for 2007, you'll want to file a revised 2007 tax return. For that, you will need Form 1040X.

10 - Retirement tax credit This one also can come with a deduction. This credit is fashioned to give moderate- and low-income taxpayers a motivator to save for retirement. Make a contribution into your retirement account. That money isn't taxed presently. So, it's like you acquired a deduction off your income. In addition, you get a credit of as much as 50% of the first $2,000 invested. That's as much as a $1,000 reduction in your tax.

You receive the $1,000 tax reduction in addition to the $2,000 reduction in your income. That's a good rate of return on a $2,000 investment. Furthermore, if you qualify, you can deduct as much as $4,000 in contributions to an IRA. The tax credit goes away as your adjusted gross income increases. But singles with AGIs up to $25,000 and joint filers with AGIs up to $50,000 will qualify. The limit is $37,500 for heads of households.

Contributions to your 401(k), 403(b), SEP, traditional or even Roth IRAs will qualify also.

Guess-Free Tax Guide was established to take the guesswork out of the average consumer's annual puzzle of which online tax software to use, what the "hidden deductions" are this year, how to save money in these troubling times, and just as important how to avoid an audit.

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